Bethlehem is "the jewel of the Lehigh Valley" and "the safest mid-size city in Pennsylvania," boasted Mayor John Callahan in his ninth annual "state of the city address" to a sell-out crowd Wednesday morning.
Callahan said 76% of Bethlehem residents recommend moving to the city, 75% rate their neighborhoods as excellent or good places to live and 85% consider the city an excellent or good place to live.
He shared those recent survey results while reviewing 2011 accomplishments and plans for this year, all aimed at continuing the transformation of "an old industrial town" into a dynamic, 21st century city "where everyone wants to live, work and visit."
During his 41-minute speech, the mayor briefly touched on many brick-and-mortar improvements coming to his city, from multi-million-dollar warehouses to biking/walking paths to a supermarket in south Bethlehem.
Callahan announced that Liberty Property Trust has filed plans to construct an 800,000 square-foot warehouse in LVIP VII, on former Bethlehem Steel property. Without providing details, he said another 170,000 square-foot project is in the development phase along the Route 412 corridor.
Those projects are part of about $120 million of private sector investment in Bethlehem, all being built without tenants.
"If we build it, they will come," said the optimistic mayor.
Portraying Bethlehem as a community that embraces innovation, the 42-year-old Callahan declared: "To every entrepreneur, inventor, scientist, developer, hacker, mathematician, student, professor and thinker: Bethlehem wants you."
Pi: Partnership for Innovation, Bethlehem's newest technology hub, celebrated its grand opening last week in the 500 block of E. 4th Street. Businesses began moving into the former silk blouse mill in October and it is 98 percent occupied, said Callahan.
He added the demand for tech space is so high that the city could have filled Pi three times, so it already is looking for another tech center location in south Bethlehem.
Other improvements Callahan wants to see in south Bethlehem include a grocery store, a parking garage and a transportation hub, as well as residential development in and around Bethlehem Steel's original headquarters building.
He said in 2011 Bethlehem issued more than 100 new business occupancy certificates in the city’s two downtowns, on opposite sides of the Lehigh River,
"Every day our economic development office fields calls from entrepreneurs who want to open restaurants, boutiques and offices in our city," Callahan said.
About 230 Bethlehem business leaders gathered for breakfast with the mayor in the banquet room of Comfort Suites in the city. The annual event was sponsored by Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, part of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Augmenting his speech with images on a screen, the mayor said last year he showed renderings of projects that now are a reality and attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to Bethlehem.
The mayor reported crime is down 10% from last year. He said Bethlehem remains the safest city in the state among those with populations over 30,000.
A Bethlehem native, Callahan has been mayor since 2004. He said government spending was cut by 9.9% in 2011 and that the city's total workforce is 619 employees, which he called the smallest in its history. He said the city produced a no tax increase budget in 2012.
Other 2012 highlights mentioned by the mayor include:
· A new police substation is being established at 60 W. Broad St.
· A $463,000 upgrade will begin in April to turn the Dewberry firehouse into a state-of-the-art EMS station, creating better emergency medical services coverage in the city.
· The city is spending $100,000 to improve Lincoln Fire Station.
· A project will begin in spring to convert the eastern portion of Route 412 from two to four lanes.
· Design work is being done for Lynn Avenue Bridge and a replacement for the High Street Bridge.
· The Broad Street streetscape will be completed, with additional parking, trees and street lights, and a project will be announced in the coming months to upgrade another "critical commercial corridor" in downtown Bethlehem.
· A second phase of development will be completed on the “enormously popular” Skatepark.